Green Ambassadors Program at Environmental Charter High School Nurtures Student AdvocatesBy Deborah Moore, Executive Director, Green Schools Initiative
As I arrive at Environmental Charter High School (ECHS), students are rehearsing a presentation on the outdoor stage near the school’s entrance, surrounded by garden walls made from concrete recycled from the former schoolyard. In its place runs a riverbed of stones and native plants that catches rainwater and allows it to percolate. Signs are everywhere on the campus explaining building features, gardens, recycling bins, and more. Not only is there a bike rack, I walk past the bike shop where students can learn bike-repair.I came to ECHS to learn more about how the school has been able to successfully integrate environmental education throughout the school. From the moment you walk on campus, you can see this learning come to life. For Environmental Charter High School's Green Ambassadors, project-based service learning results in empowered youth, and widening circles of positive change in the school's Los Angeles area community. Green Ambassadors is an innovative academic program for 10th graders that creates opportunities for students to develop leadership skills while addressing the critical environmental issues facing our planet and its residents.
Students in the Green Ambassadors class become green advocates and
ambassadors by jumping into real-life environmental issues to find real
solutions. Teachers become facilitators as student teams work together
to build skills in outreach, marketing, event planning, and
fundraising. They design brochures and shoot videos, write press
releases, and more, all in support of a community event where they will
be the presenters, teaching younger students and community members
about how to address important environmental problems. I dropped in on a class where students were planning this year's event on water conservation. Students readily volunteered the goals and purpose of the event and shared the research they had compiled to educate their community. Previous efforts have focused on reducing plastic in their communities.
I met with Alison Suffet-Diaz, ECHS's Founder and Executive Director, to learn more about how we can help support efforts to replicate the effectiveness of their curricula so that other schools don't need to reinvent the wheel. "Part of what makes ECHS succeed is that we encourage and train our teachers in how to integrate project-based environmental education into their regular subjects," Alison shared. "The specialized Green Ambassadors course has taught us a lot about what works that we share across all our curricula," Alison said. With California State Department of Education funding, ECHS has disseminated its Green Ambassadors program to 10 schools within California. Environmental Charter High School, a model for green education, is currently developing a Green Ambassador Institute to train teachers across the nation how to engage students in cross-disciplinary hands-on learning.
All students at Environmental Charter High School participate in three-day outdoor education field trips outside the urban jungle, backpacking in the mountains, and spending time in places like Joshua Tree National Monument and Catalina Island. "They come back changed," says Sara Laimon, Director of the Green Ambassadors program. "These trips help put into context everything we're doing in urban Los Angeles."
ECHS also boasts increasingly high academic scores and rapidly improving graduation rates for the predominantly at-risk youth in the program. Student retention has steadily improved so that the size of this year's senior class is almost as large as it was freshman year.
For more information about Green Ambassadors or the certificated program offered by the Green Ambassador Institute, contact:
Sara Laimon, Green Ambassadors, Environmental Charter High School,